Stress: The Ultimate Ager!

Posted by Agatha Cheng

"This (name the stress) is gonna' be the death of me!" "That (name the stress) is making him old before his time!" knows that stress is bad for our health. But why? And what can we do about it?

Now I don't pretend to be able to give a full coverage of such a huge topic in an article. Let us focus on some basic physiology of our tiny but most important adrenal glands, a.k.a., the stress glands.

Now the adrenal glands, bean sized glands that site on top of our kidneys, have many, many functions. Herein we shall limit ourselves to an introductory discussion of two of the most important adrenal hormones, cortisol and DHEA.

DHEA (DeHydroEpiAndrosterone) is the most abundant anabolic steroid in the body. Anabolic means "constructive metabolism". It is made from cholesterol, which is converted into pregnenolone, which is then converted into the more familiar hormones, DHEA or progesterone. (This is one reason why a very low cholesterol may not be healthy.) DHEA can be converted to androstenedione, which in turn can be turned into estrogen or testosterone. By age 65, we make only 10% to 20% of what we made at 20!

DHEA has been shown to be an all around anti-aging wonder in animal studies. DHEA has been shown to be anti-infectious, anti-heart disease, anti-autoimmune disorder, anti-obesity, anti-cancer, anti- diabetes and anti-stress!

There is less data on the effects of DHEA in humans.

DHEA appears to increase IGF-1 levels in humans, just like Hgh. (IGF-1 stands for insulin like growth factor). Indeed, DHEA has been called the "poor mans HGH!"

Reports of enhanced cognitive functions and an increased sense of physical and psychological well being are by now well known, though not all scientific investigations agree.

It appears that optimal levels of DHEA in elderly men (60-80) are particularly beneficial. The fear of elevated DHEA being a cause of prostate cancer has little more than hypothetical support.

For women it is not so clear. Indeed, high therapeutic doses in women, usually for autoimmune disorders,can cause acne and facial hair. DHEA supplementation may cause lowering of HDL levels in women. There is again concern, albeit hypothetical, that raising DHEA will raise estrogen and thereby increase cervical and breast cancer risk.

A new type of DHEA, called 7-Keto DHEA, does not convert to the sex hormones, so there is no fear at all of them being a possible exacerbator of cancer. Though it will not increase testosterone or estrogen, 7–Keto DHEA still retains its anti-obesity, immune supportive, and cardio-protective properties.

Menstruating females should restrict themselves to 7-Keto DHEA.

Postmenopausal women who wish to use DHEA should take the DHEA Challenge Salivary Test described below.

The need for enhancement is best determined by saliva tests The two saliva-testing procedures are the DHEA Challenge Test (DCT) and adrenal stress index (ASI).

The DCT test measures DHEA, progesterone, testosterone and estrogen. If DHEA is low or borderline low normal, and none of the sex hormones are high, then DHEA is supplemented.

Several weeks latter, the test is repeated. If one of the sex hormones is or becomes too elevated, DHEA may be discontinued.

Alternately, the use of 7-Keto DHEA may be indicated as that form reportedly provides immune, anti-stress mental function enhancement benefits without increasing sex hormone production. However, increasing testosterone is usually very desirable in an anti-aging program, especially in men.

The amount taken depends on these test results, age and gender.

We doctors at RxforWellness recommend sublingual forms over tablets whenever available. We also recommend that pregnenolone, the precursor to DHEA and progesterone, be part of the formula.

Before we talk about the "adrenal stress index", we must review the second stress hormone mentioned in our introduction, cortisol.

Cortisol is the major catabolic steroid of the adrenal glands. Catabolic means "destructive metabolism". Cortisol is made from cholesterol, which is converted into pregnenolone, which may convert to progesterone and then on to cortisol.

Cortisol levels are affected by the sleep-wake cycle, stress and certain disease states. Cortisol is integral in energy metabolism, muscle maintenance (including the heart), and suppression of inflammation. Large amounts are secreted during times of stress.

Chronic stress leads to chronic elevation. Chronic cortisol elevation is immune-suppressive and often found with depression, sleep disorders, high blood pressure (HBP), anorexia, low blood sugar, Syndrome X, hypo-thyroidism, menstrual disorders, osteoporosis and obesity (when combined with high insulin levels).

If ongoing, the adrenals become "exhausted" and levels drop below normal. This is often the case in "chronic fatigue syndromes" and can end in Addison's disease.

Of interest, high protein diets increase cortisol where as high carbohydrate decrease it. The opposite is true of DHEA. Vegetarians have higher DHEA levels then omnivores! This is one of the reasons we tend to over eat sweets when stressed.

Exercise relieves stress, but over exercise increases cortisol, often resulting in injury and/or loss of muscle mass from over training.

People who lowered their stress by relaxation techniques and listening to music lowered their cortisol by 23% and raised their DHEA by 100% according to the Institute of Heartmath in Boulder Creek, CA.

The adrenal stress index is the best way to measure your adrenal stress hormone status. It consists of a AM (6 to 9) and a PM (9 to 12) cortisol, as cortisol levels, if you recall, fluctuate with the sleep-wake (diurnal) cycle. DHEA and progesterone are measured once at either time as well.

The results of this test will guide the supplement program that is most likely to assist in restoring balance and, thereby, minimizing destructive catabolism and maximizing anabolic constructive potential.

Written by: Dr. John Maher, Solana Beach, CA USA

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